Wakes Monday Horn Dance
Maid Marian accompanied by musicians
If you find yourself in the ancient village of Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire, on the first Monday, following the first Sunday after September 4th, (this year it’s September 10) and wonder why people are dancing around with antler horns on their head, don’t fret. You have not come under some type of Nordic-like enchantment. Neither have you happened upon a location shoot for Game of Thrones. It’s just the centuries old Wakes Monday tradition of Horn Dancing.
Staffordshire lies in the middle of England and the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance is a quirky ritual dating back to 1226.
The dancers comprise of six Deer-men, who hold the horns aloft, a man dressed as Maid Marian, a Hobby Horse (i.e. a man astride a wooden pole with a horse’s head), a young boy equipped with a bow and arrow known as the ‘Bowman’, and a Fool/Jester - as though the other participants aren’t entertaining enough.
The group’s day starts at 8am when they all swing by the village’s church, St. Nicholas’, to collect the horns. Some of the antlers used in the Horn Dance are said to have been carbon dated to be more than one thousand years old, which if correct means they are of Viking origin. When not being used on Wakes Monday, the horns are kept on display in the church.
Accompanied by a melodeon player, the group proceeds through the village and its outskirts, stopping off at various locations to perform their dance. All the while cheered on by revelers. For those not familiar with a melodeon, it’s a form of accordion, minus the keyboard.
More musical accompaniment is provided by the Hobby Horse, whose constantly snapping jaws beat out the time. At various times during the revelry, the Bowman symbolically shoots the Hobby Horse - constantly snapping jaws must get really annoying after a while - who fakes death only to be instantly resurrected.
The Hobby Horse is said to have once been the most important character in the festival, as it was the job of the animal characters in pagan times to ward off evil spirits. In more recent times – the last couple of hundred years for instance –the dancers have become the focal point of the festivities.
Each dance culminates with the deer men facing each other, lowering their horns and pretending to fight. Maybe there is a Game of Thrones element to the celebration after all? Regardless, by the end of the day the dancers will have walked about 10 miles before returning the horns to the church and heading off to the local inn, where, needless to say, the merriment continues.